Suspense and tension are two of the most underrated elements of a great rock song. While everyone adores cathartic, explosive moments, some of the genre’s most iconic tracks are ones that push the momentum to the breaking point, before pulling back, depriving the listener of an easy reward (think most songs from the Velvet Underground, Stereolab and other motorik masters.)
There may be no payoff, but that taut, friction-laden feeling lingers in the same. Not everyone can or needs to be the Japandroids.
Fast Times, a San Francisco rock trio led by local wunderkind Andrew St. James, embraces that philosophy to great effect on their latest single, “Girlfriend,” a minimalist delight that is both measured and moving.
With an insistent bassline and austere percussion, the song evokes the stark environs of atmospheric experts like The XX or Young Marble Giants. The album has plenty of pace — it eschews the liquid tempo of a slowcore or chillwave production — but St. James and company (drummer Cody Rhodes and guitarist Duncan Nielsen) never let the song careen off track.
The energy nears a tipping point when St. James reaches for the eponymous chorus line, drawing out the single line, “Girlfriendddddd…” but instead of toppling into a cacophony of thunderous drums and noise histrionics, the song is reined in with a light sprinkling of shimmering guitar chords. For a song about a deteriorating relationship (St. James wonders “where’s my baby now?”), that commitment to control makes sense. Unrequited love does not require fireworks.
Last month, we highlighted Fast Times debut single, a chugging Strokes-ian number called “Tuesday Night.” Like that release, “Girlfriend” is being issued today as part of a benefit package to support the Rickshaw Stop.
With two songs to their name — the more somber, contemplative “Girlfriend” and the relatively raucous “Tuesday Night,” it can easily be said that Fast Times is batting .1000 so far in their young career. For a band that shifts effortlessly between sounds and knows the right balance between restraint and release, it will be exciting to see if they can keep their streak alive.